The ‘CNN Effect’ Dies in Syria – The Atlantic

In the 1990s, a term emerged for the role that vivid coverage of humanitarian crises by 24-hour news networks played in the U.S. government’s decisions to use military force. In that era, America intervened in conflicts it might have otherwise ignored, from Iraq and Somalia to Bosnia and Kosovo . Academic research has never proven a clear “CNN effect”—certainly nothing as straightforward as the public successfully pressuring policymakers to save lives because of television reports—but its premise remains alluring: that mass media need only convey how terribly others are suffering for people and their governments to do something about it.
In recent days, the Syrian government’s relentless bombardment of the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta has demonstrated just how muted the CNN effect is in Syria. We read that hundreds of people have perished in what the UN secretary-general describes as “hell on earth.” We see images of bloodied children, covered in rubble or shrouds, pop up in our Twitter feeds. We watch a doctor fall to the floor in tears because she knows she can’t save the life of a boy whisked to her overwhelmed hospital. “I was just making bread for him when the roof fell in,” the boy’s mother wails. “At least in heaven there’s food.”

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